Shadow Magic
by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
464pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.88/5

Shadow Magic is a loose sequel to Havemercy, the debut novel for Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones. In June a third book, Dragon Soul, was released in hardcover. Dragon Soul continues the story of Thom and Rook from Havemercy, and also introduces two new characters.

Even though Shadow Magic takes place after Havemercy, it could work as a stand alone book. It does give away what happens with the conflict between two nations for the previous book though, so those who like to avoid any spoilers at all may want to avoid reading it first. However, I would have had no problem with starting with Shadow Magic and then reading Havemercy – it follows a completely different set of characters and these books are more enjoyable for reading about how developments unfold than what exactly unfolds.

Please note that if you are one of those people who do not want to know any details at all about the end of Havemercy, mentioning them is difficult to avoid when discussing this book so you will not want to read the rest of this review. If you are curious about these books but do not want to read this review, there is a review of Havemercy you can read instead.

The war between Volstov and Xi’an has come to an end. On the seventh hour of the seventh day of observing the loss of the war, the Ke-Han emperor traditionally committed suicide to atone for their national defeat, leaving behind his two sons. Iseul, the older son, must follow in his father’s footsteps by either ceremonially ending his life or assuming the role of Emperor for himself. He chooses the latter, so he and Prince Mamoru prepare to discuss peace with the delegation from Volstov – who arrive sooner than expected on the day of their father’s death.

The Esar of Volstov has sent nine delegates to Xi’an, mainly composed of magicians with a few soldiers thrown in for good measure. The members of the envoy become uneasy when Emperor Iseul declares his more personable brother as guilty of treason, and the prince goes into hiding. As the proceedings continue with very little progress made and they begin to see glimpses of a darker side to Iseul, the Volstovics become increasingly wary of the new emperor.

Like Havemercy, Shadow Magic captured my attention from the very first page and held it throughout with its character narratives. In this novel, there are two narrators from Xi’an, the prince Mamoru and his servant Kouje, and two from Volstov, the delegates Caius and Alcibiades. After only seeing characters from Volstov in Havemercy, the inclusion of two of the Ke-Han with a broader, more sympathetic look at their culture and how they were affected by the war was very welcome. Mamoru and Kouje were perhaps the more easily likable of the four main protagonists with their good intentions and their story’s focus on loyalty and a long-standing friendship.

However, Caius and Alicibiades were the more intriguing with their more humorous voices and propensity to get into trouble. Caius is a magician previously exiled for using his talent to wreak revenge. Alcibiades is a soldier who also has a talent but hates the fact that he has magical ability and does whatever he can to avoid using it. Their observations about each other were quite entertaining – Caius decided that he simply must be friends with Alcibiades, who thought Caius was a pest, and a crazy one at that:

One of his eyes was queerly discolored, and being looked at by him felt like you were having a conversation with two people, and both of them equally insane. [pp. 17-18]

After reading more from the perspective of Caius, it becomes clear just how apt this description is. Because of this, Caius was easily my favorite to read about – he appeared so carefree and easygoing most of the time with his main concerns focusing on fashion, gossip and breaking down the barriers Alcibiades built outside the door between their rooms. Yet he also had this love of danger coupled with the ruthless streak that lead to his infamous exile from Volstov that almost made him eerie.

There are a lot of other similarities to the preceding novel, particularly in its structure. The entire story is told from the first person perspective of four different men, one of which is another gay magician although there is no romantic involvement as in Royston’s part in Havemercy. Two of these perspectives overlap as they spend a lot of time together throughout the novel, and these two paired protagonists only very occasionally actually meet up with the other two. One of these two converging storylines is more serious while the in the other hilarity ensues. Throughout the novel, most of the story is told through character interaction and the observations of the various narrators, but at the end there is a lot of action and it concludes in a rush.

In spite of these parallels, it does not feel at all like a rehash of Havemercy. For one thing, it almost entirely takes place in the Japanese-influenced country of Xi’an instead of Volstov. Now that the war is over, there’s an absence of the metal dragons and the conflict is completely different since it is not Volstov vs. Xi’an. Also, each of the characters is very different from the previous ones. Alicibiades may seem a little similar to Rook since he doesn’t tend to care about social niceties, but he also was not nearly as obnoxious and was more understandable. He didn’t want to just gladly accept the people who almost managed to conquer his nation, and as a soldier in the war he was a lot closer to the situation than most of the delegates.

Although I really enjoyed reading Shadow Magic, I did feel that it had a weak point in the character of Iseul. Iseul seemed to be purely evil with no real motive beyond being born innately villainous, plus his particular brand of evil made him seem rather stupid. He turned against his own brother, a compassionate young man who never gave him any reason to do so. Plus the people of Ke-Han loved Mamoru, who did his best to make sure they were taken care of during the war, and no one who had ever met him was going to believe he was truly guilty of treason. It didn’t even ring true to the delegates from Volstov who spent merely one evening in his presence. He seemed to have no beneficial reason in the long term to act the way he did, although I suppose he had no concept of ideas such as being held in high regard for virtues such as kindness.

Also, I felt that Mamoru and Kouje’s story dragged at times. While I liked both of them and enjoyed reading their tale of loyalty and friendship, I much preferred reading about Caius and Alcibiades, who were so much fun to read about, especially when it concerned each man’s reactions to the other.

Even so, Shadow Magic was very readable with plenty of strengths. Its often humorous narrative told from the perspective of four very different and likable protagonists kept me turning the pages, and I also enjoyed getting to learn more about the Ke-Han. I’ll definitely be reading more by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Other Reviews:

This week one new book showed up in my mailbox – the finished copy of one I already had received as an ARC back in May.

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

The first book in the Living with the Dead series just came out September 1. The second book, Flip This Zombie, will be released in January 2011, and book three Zombie Whisperer is scheduled for publication in June 2011. The first chapter of Married with Zombies can be read on the author’s website.

Jesse Petersen and Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire, the newest recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer) are currently the guests at Babel Clash, the Borders speculative fiction book blog. They are, of course, discussing zombies.

A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they’re on the verge of divorce and going to couples’ counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things – the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client’s throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn’t mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don’t eat their brains, they might just kill each other.


The winners of the 2010 Hugo Awards have been announced:

Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK); The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

Best Novella: “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)

Best Novelette: “The Island”, Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)

Best Short Story: “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)

Best Related Book: This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”), Jack Vance (Subterranean)

Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars” Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)

Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow

Best Editor Long Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine: Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan

Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl

Best Fanzine: StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Seanan McGuire

Congratulations to all the winners! I am especially happy to see Seanan McGuire recognized as best new writer since I love her October Daye series.

The Last Stormlord
by Glenda Larke
704pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.03/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.83/5

The Last Stormlord is the first book in the Stormlord trilogy, also known as the Watergivers trilogy, by Glenda Larke. The second book, Stormlord Rising, recently came out in the US. It was already available in Australia, and it will be released in the UK in November. Stormlord’s Exile, the third book, is supposed to be released sometime next year although there is not yet a publication date.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Quartern has depended on the stormlords for their survival. The stormlords collect water from the sea and move the water to the tunnels so each person has the amount of water necessary for life. However, even though there are several rainlords with varying degrees of power to manipulate water, there is only one stormlord left – and he is ill and becoming weaker with the effort providing water to the four quarters without any aid. As the water levels remain low and the situation becomes more dire, some believe it is time to stop supplying water to the other quarters since it’s better to save themselves than to have everyone die from dehydration. While the stormlord is prepared to do so, he is only willing to as a last resort and first he sends some rainlords to one of the quarters to search for water sensitives with the potential to take his place.

The Last Stormlord took a long time to become interesting and still never became as engaging as I would have liked. The beginning was very rough with a video game tutorial feel to it. It started out with Terelle, a young girl whose father sold her and her sister into lives as courtesans. Although Terelle does seem to finally be developing more of a purpose by the end of the book, at first her point of view felt like a way of using an inexperienced character to inform readers of the way the world worked. The conversations with her sister in the first chapter are clumsy as they argue about how Terelle does not want to be a whore once she is old enough, and her sister goes into great detail about why they are different from common prostitutes on the street corners. A few pages later Terelle asks her sister about her mother, and her sister replies that she’s already told her everything she knows – but instead of leaving it at that she tells her once again everything she knows, including the woman’s name. Soon after that, the man who usually handles water payments asks Terelle to take his place for the first time, leading to lots of questions on supplying water to the Quartern.

Once the other characters were introduced and Terelle was not the sole protagonist, it did get better, although the world building and magic system were easily the main strength of the novel. Larke has created a fascinating society of desert people whose lives revolve around water, and a few of these people can even sense or manipulate it. A person’s wealth is measured by if they receive an allotment of water with the very poorest people fending for themselves on the lowest level. The situation of the decline of the stormlords who supply the four sections created a lot of tension, as people disagreed about how to handle this dilemma and best conserve water. Should water be withheld from two quarters to save the other two since everyone will die without water anyway? When is the right time to exercise this? Should people be punished for having children when there is already not enough water to go around?

While the world and the societies were well-developed, the characters were not for the most part. Terelle’s story was drawn out and pointless until close to the conclusion. She will most likely be an important character in the next couple of books, but her perspective could have been much shorter in this book. Her plight of escaping life as a courtesan just was not all that compelling. Even though she should have been easy to empathize with due to her desire to have free will and escape this life she does not want, her single-minded focus on leaving made her seem whiny, especially when so many other people were far worse off than she was. At least Terelle was alive and well with shelter, water and food.

In addition to Terelle, there was a young water sensitive named Shale, whose story also began slowly but at least made him seem like someone who would play a prominent role in the future due to the strength of his power. The non-teen protagonists were more engaging, although I was becoming fond of Shale by the end. My favorite was the scholarly Ryka Feldspar, who had little talent with water and was pushed toward marrying Kaneth due to the fact that they might have children with some water sensitivity. Nealrith, the son of the stormlord who sadly fell short of his power, struggled with feeling like he should be able to take some of the strain off his father. Although we never really see his perspective, Taquar is the most intriguing – he’s somewhat mysterious since his motives are murky and he is near the strength of a stormlord himself. In spite of liking some of the other characters, they didn’t seem to get as much time in the story as Terelle and Shale and they also never really came alive with lots of complexity and human emotion.

The names were rather distracting and overdone such as Beryll and Ryka Feldspar, Kaneth Carnelian, Shale and Mica Flint, Nealrith Almandine, Taquar Sardonyx, Amethyst and Opal. Many of the expressions used were also excessive, such as “sandcrazy, ” “a dry end,” and “sun-dried fool.” It seemed to go overboard in driving home the point that these are desert people.

By the time it concluded, The Last Stormlord was beginning to go somehwere, but it took too long to get there considering it was about 700 pages long. Even though there are two more books coming, a book with that many pages should do more than set up the world and the rest of the series, even if it just makes one care about the different characters and what happens to them. It was mildly entertaining at times with a strong setting, but it was not particularly absorbing.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a review copy sent by the publisher.

Other Reviews:

My husband just found this news that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman may end up as a TV series! According to the article, Warner Bros. TV is in the process of attaining the television rights to the series and Supernatural creator Sam Kripke may be involved.

Sandman holds a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. It was the first graphic novel series I read, and it convinced me that storytelling in that format could be just as good or better than a novel. The creativity and epic scope of Sandman makes it my favorite of any work by Gaiman I’ve read, and it’s really exciting to think it could end up as a TV series.


It’s hard to believe it is September already! Here’s hoping more books are finished this month than July since last month’s pile is looking rather sad, although I’ve also read part of two more books before today. Eek, I haven’t reviewed any of these yet either!

Books read in July:

31. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
32. Shadow Magic by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
33. Killbox by Ann Aguirre

Favorite book from July: I liked all three of these but it’s not a difficult choice. I’ll have to go with Shadow Magic – I just loved all the characters, especially Caius.

What did you read last month?